winners underlined in red
* = prediction
+ = personal pick
Nomination Analysis: Quick--which of these don't belong? If you said Chocolat, you would be correct. Actually, the presence of a token Best Picture candidate from Miramax was hardly surprising, for coming into this morning's announcement it had been reported that the Brothers Weinstein's famous (or is it infamous?) campaign machine had bucked early odds and somehow made the landed the latest from last year's Miramax MVP, The Cider House Rules helmer Lasse Hallström, on the short list for the top prize. Even so, it doesn't make the inclusion of this saccharine swill any more forgivable. Is Chocolat a more deserving contender than Cameron Crowe's celebrated but snubbed Almost Famous? Hell, it even isn't as good as its main competition in the formulaic feel-good department, Billy Elliot, which also didn't make the final cut, let alone two personal--but way too unconventional--favorites of mine, Darren Aronofsky's harrowing Requiem for a Dream and Lars von Trier's powerful musical tragedy Dancer in the Dark. As for overlooked films that were considered legitimate contenders for a spot, Cast Away, Quills, and Wonder Boys, along with the aforementioned Billy Elliot and Almost Famous, came up short.
*Prediction: While the fabled Miramax Machine was somehow able to vault a surprise nomination for The Cider House Rules into the position of "most likely to pull an upset" last year, there's no chance of that happening with the 2000 recipe for Weinstein/Lasse Hallström awards bait. Chocolat's presence in this category has rightfully been seen as a triumph of campaigning rather than merit, and the lack of a directing nod for Hallström is pretty much the final nail in this contender's coffin. (The 'Max and Hallström should have better luck with their Y2K+1 prestige project, The Shipping News, which stars Oscar bait actors Kevin Spacey and Judi Dench.) Erin earned both popular and critical acclaim, buy one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks it deserves the title of Best Picture of the Year. Besides, admirers of director Steven Soderbergh are more likely to throw their support behind his other nominated film, Traffic, touted by many as the "Important" film of the five. Critical raves and surprising box office strength certainly work in favor of the film, and there's no arguing it's a superb piece of cinematic craftsmanship on every level. But on the whole it's a cerebral experience, and Oscar voters tend to fall for something with more emotional sweep--a requirement CT, HD certainly fills. Any issues about the lack of English-language dialogue in Ang Lee's martial arts romance long fell by the wayside when it crossed over from arthouse fave to mainstream box office phenomenon; plus, Lee and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are established presences in Hollywood film, making the film feel all the less "foreign." Even more to its credit, fans of the film don't like it, they love it, and this fervent passion puts frontrunner Gladiator in a particularly vulnerable spot. Ridley Scott's Roman epic was one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer, and a lot of people like the film, really like it. But feelings over Gladiator aren't nearly as strong as those for CT, HD, calling to mind the situation of 1995 frontrunner/well-liked summer hit Apollo 13, which lost the Best Picture trophy to a film that had a passionate following: Mel Gibson's Braveheart. That said, I think the SKG's aggressive campaign, including a week-long Los Angeles theatrical revival featuring Q&As with cast and crew (a campaign no-no that the studio was reprimanded for--but the benefits had already been reaped), has kept the film strong enough in the mind of voters to take the trophy. But don't be shocked if the Tiger makes history by being the first non-English film to take the top prize.
+My Pick: I hate to be lumped in with the pack, but count me among those fervently passionate CT, HD fans--no other film had quite the transporting effect on me as Ang Lee's superbly mounted, flawlessly acted (where, oh where, are the acting nods?), viscerally exciting, and deeply moving epic.
The Winner: In a year marked by upsets and surprises, I suppose it only figures that, in the end, the expected winner emerged victorious.
Nomination Analysis: Kudos to the Academy for not buying into the hype surrounding last year's most overrated film, Wonder Boys, and tapping its star, Michael Douglas. However, the one who most likely supplanted him, Harris, is actually a worse choice. My best guess as to why he was able to sneak in is that his fellow actors gave him credit for bringing his pet project to fruition; after all, his unimpressive performance falls into the prototypical "scream your way to an Oscar" mold (or is that why he was selected?). Also, his dramatic weight gain for the part had to score some points. The rest of the field offers no surprises, except maybe Bardem, whose film was rightly considered a tough sell to the Academy crowd. I, for one, found him only adequate at best--certainly not more deserving than American Psycho's Christian Bale, CT, HD's Chow Yun-Fat, or You Can Count on Me's Mark Ruffalo, the three most glaring oversights from my perspective. The absence of Finding Forrester's Sean Connery proves that sentiment isn't a guaranteed ticket to a nod.
*Prediction: Enthusiasm for Quills died quickly, and when it came time to fill out the ballots, I imagine Rush's turn as the Marquis de Sade was barely remembered. Bardem has some major heat going for his widely-lauded (though not by me) performance as persecuted gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, but try getting enough of the Academy's older members to sit through the whole film. Didn't think so. Gladiator set Crowe's star into the stratosphere, and with that came a whole lot of tabloid baggage--which will sadly detract from his exceptional, movie-making performance. This leaves Hanks and Harris, and while Hanks' work was certainly the most daring of all his nominated turns over the years, I imagine voters won't be so eager to give him a third Oscar--at least not so soon. Harris goes in with one big obstacle: his film was hardly as visible as Hanks' holiday hit. But Pollock was his labor of love, and Harris is a very well-liked and -respected actor with previous nominations to his credit but no win. That will change Sunday night--even though honoring his screechy, mannered performance as Jackson Pollock will just confirm all the worst perceptions about Oscar-winning acting.
+My Pick: Crowe, in a close call over Hanks. It's impossible to imagine Gladiator being nearly as effective without his commanding, iconic performance.
The Winner: A logical and entirely defensible choice--if Gladiator is indeed Best Picture, it would only follow that the Academy acknowledge the one reason that made the film so special in the first place.
Nomination Analysis: An exact duplicate of its Screen Actors Guild Awards counterpart, this category was woefully easy to predict. That said, it doesn't make this lineup the ideal one; after all, Binoche may have been the best thing about Chocolat, but was that really an award-worthy turn? Those unjustly falling victim to the Miramax Machine include CT, HD's superbly subtle Michelle Yeoh, Nurse Betty Golden Globe winner Renée Zellweger, The House of Mirth's searing Gillian Anderson, Love & Basketball's Sanaa Lathan (a huge longshot, I know), and--most notably--Dancer in the Dark's Björk, whose stunning debut towered over all the efforts turned in by her counterparts last year. Not that any of this matters in the end--the other four nominees are simply bridesmaids to the runaway winner, Roberts.
*Prediction: Julia, Julia, Julia. No point in deconstructing the race 'cause there isn't one.
+My Pick: Björk--woops, she wasn't nominated. Then kudos should go to the year's second most fearless performance by an actress: Burstyn's gutwrenching descent into the horrors of drug dependency in Darren Aronofsky's stunning Requiem for a Dream (which, in an ideal world, would have earned a lot more than this single nod).
The Winner: I, for one, liked the runaway favorite's cutesy acceptance speech. Or maybe that's because she squeezed in her trademark bray of a laugh, the absence of which would have made the moment less than complete.
Nomination Analysis: Bridges is a mild surprise here, emphasis on "mild," given his previous citations from the Globes and SAG. I thought his co-star, Gary Oldman, was actually more impressive, but I guess his public badmouthing of the film ended up costing him. There were no shocks of omission, though if support for Almost Famous were stronger, Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit, and Philip Seymour Hoffman would have easily made the cut; ditto the case of Wonder Boys and Tobey Maguire, and Thirteen Days and the Kennedy brother duo of Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp. I was personally rooting for Nurse Betty's Morgan Freeman, but there was no chance of that happening.
*Prediction: Phoenix was indeed memorable as the villainous emperor, but unlike in the distaff counterpart to this category, youth isn't a plus here. Bridges is a well-regarded figure without an Oscar win to his name, but I don't think enough voters will have seen his film; ditto Dafoe, who will be left to bask the glow of his critics organizations awards. Finney is a veteran thesp who has never won, and he did win the Screen Actors Guild Award in this category for his role as Julia's primary foil. While that certainly counts for something, the fact that Del Toro won SAG's lead actor award for his performance nominated here counts for even more. In keeping with the year's apparent theme of "subtitles be damned," Del Toro's primarily Spanish-language turn should easily emerge victorious...
+My Pick: ...and rightfully so. As a Tijuana cop caught in a war between drug cartels, Del Toro shed his long-tired verbal tics and at long last became a real actor.
The Winner: I suppose Traffic's strength in the overall race wasn't quite so surprising considering it boasted two of the night's sure things (Julia, Bob Dylan, and the CT, HD Foreign Language Film win being the others).
Nomination Analysis: The big news here is the presence of Harden, whose nod proves that the support for Ed Harris' vanity project Pollock was vastly underestimated; while I do think she did a better job than Harris, her performance was still too heavy on the screechy end for my taste. Dench's nod was as expected as it is completely undeserved; she can do the cranky old lady bit in her sleep. Yet somehow voters found more merit in these performances than the one that has so unfairly been left off the list: Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Her character was the one who set the whole plot in motion, and as the focus ever-so-gradually shifted over to her, she carried the picture with ease. Undoubtedly, it was her lack of name recognition and Mandarin dialogue that were the fatal blows. Academy favorite Kate Winslet wasn't exactly challenged by her part as a free-spirited chambermaid in Quills, but her snubbing is less an indicator of her performance's quality than lack of enthusiasm for her film. A couple of maverick choices that would've added some much-needed spice into the mix are Chuck & Buck's Lupe Ontiveros and Requiem for a Dream's Jennifer Connelly, but to expect the Academy to reach that far is to give them way too much credit.
*Prediction: Support for the British feel-good number Billy Elliot was hardly what some had predicted, thereby erasing Walters' chances. Dench won this year's SAG Award, but I don't think voters will honor her so soon after her Shakespeare in Love win of '98 (not to mention her Chocolat role was thoroughly unchallenging). A vote for McDormand would also be, by default, a vote for her other well-received supporting work in Wonder Boys, but all the fuss over her Almost Famous turn faded away along with that over everything in the entire picture. The exception to that, though, is Hudson, whose name and performance is still very much on everyone's mind. The fact that, as the daughter of previous winner Goldie Hawn, that she's seen as "Hollywood" royalty should be the extra push over her closest competitor, Harden, who could upset if the Ed Harris good will rubs off on her. Not likely, though.
+My Pick: Most of the pre-release press for Almost Famous focused on how it would be the film to finally break Billy Crudup into major stardom (a sentiment that goes with just about every film he makes). But watching the film it was clear that the star being born was Hudson, who brought the right amount of tenderness, naivete, and intelligence to the role of "band aid" Penny Lane. Of the five nominated performances, hers was by far the most touching and most memorable.
The Winner: Most saw this as an out-of-nowhere win, but if anyone were to pull an upset in this category, it was to be her. She appears to be a classy and deserving lady, but too bad she had to win the award for such an undeserving and crassly awards-grabbing turn. Even so, her win was at least the lesser of two possible evils to emerge from Pollock, the other, greater one being an Ed Harris (whom I thankfully incorrectly predicted to win).
Nomination Analysis: There's always at least one directing nominee that doesn't correspond with any of the Best Picture nominees, so the fact that the nominees here correspond to four out of the top five isn't surprising at all. What is downright startling, however, is who the odd man in is--Daldry, who simply hit all the right, pedestrian notes in the good but milquetoast Billy Elliot. Almost Famous' Cameron Crowe or even Cast Away's Robert Zemeckis would have been better choices; veering into more adventurous territory, the visual virtuosity of Requiem for a Dream's Darren Aronofsky, the harrowing emotional wringer designed by Dancer in the Dark's Lars von Trier, or the sterling performances coaxed by You Can Count on Me's Kenneth Lonergan easily make them worthier choices than Daldry.
*Prediction: Daldry's nomination seems a fluke; don't expect the bigger fluke of a win to take place. If Gladiator sweeps, Scott could take the gold; certainly helping is the fact he pulled off one of those big epic films voters seem to go ga-ga over. Soderbergh made the TV-movie-reminiscent premise of Erin Brockovich into something much more substantial, but his chances are stronger with his more complex achievement in Traffic. Those chances may be strong enough to defeat Directors Guild winner Lee, but the delicate action/romance balance Lee pulled off in CT, HD will be too beautiful to ignore. It's a close call, and I see Lee making the photo finish.
+My Pick: (see Best Picture)
The Winner: Even though he had been thought to be the "next-in-line" choice, this was for me the biggest surprise of the night--not so much because of the expected "Soderbergh split" but because Ang Lee had won the DGA award. That said, unlike the Harden win, this was a pleasant surprise, and Soderbergh's classy and succinct acceptance speech wins my award for the night's best.
Nomination Analysis: A film about tolerance that needlessly hammers its already-thuddingly obvious theme with a film-ending sermon (literally and figuratively) on the subject. Apparently, it's this kind of hamfisted writing that gets you a shot at Oscar--witness Chocolat's inexplicable (in terms of merit, that is; it's quite obviously the result of campaigning) inclusion. I was far from a fan of Wonder Boys, but its nomination was a given; I was marginal on O Brother, but its eccentricity makes it one of the more interesting selections. Kudos to the writers branch for recognizing how CT, HD deftly wove age-old folkloric archetypes into art. The most notable omission is Doug Wright's Quills, at one point considered a shoo-in; it and the also-absent Requiem for a Dream were probably deemed too hot to handle. A safer choice is High Fidelity, but that script wasn't able to parlay its recent Writers Guild nod into an Oscar nod; and Terrence Davies' adaptation of The House of Mirth apparently lacked in viewership what it boasted in literary pedigree.
*Prediction: The Coens' nomination was kind of surprising, so don't expect it to pull off a miraculous win. I'd like to hope that no voter thinks the Chocolat screenplay good enough to be one of the two best of the year (*shudder*). A possible CT, HD sweep would mean good news for the screenwriters, but that's not a probable situation. Most of Wonder Boys' inexplicable praise was directed toward the script, but the very deserved lack of enthusiasm by voters in the other categories spells trouble for its chances. Gaghan's intricate Traffic script has been winning just about every possible award out there, and look for Oscar to be no exception.
+My Pick: While it could be argued that his script brings up nothing terribly new in regard to the drug war, Gaghan's Traffic lived up to every one of its grand ambitions, making three very loosely linked plotlines feel as one, and achieving the difficult task of imparting hard facts while keeping the proceedings involving and entertaining.
The Winner: (see Supporting Actor, above)
Nomination Analysis: The surprise here is the nomination for top nod-getter Gladiator, which has been hailed as a triumph of anything but writing; its presence here is a likely coattail nod. The scripts of State and Main and Best in Show were touted as possibles, but the Academy rightfully saw them for the overrated works they are. Of the other notable omissions, Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark was perhaps too controversial to make the cut; Nurse Betty likely suffered from similar love-it-or-hate-it reactions; and with Chicken Run's claymation technique came an unfair stigma.
*Prediction: Gladiator's only shot lies in a sweep, and that appears unlikely. Hall's script looks to go down with the rest of the once-highly-touted Billy Elliot. Grant's script had a lot of juicy lines, but it was Soderbergh's direction that vaulted the film into Best Picture material. Crowe's script and Kate Hudson are the only two things about Almost Famous that haven't lost their luster through the storm over the film's disappointing box office, but the weak nomination showing doesn't bode well for when the voting is extended to all Academy members. That leaves Lonergan's little indie that could to get its just due here.
+My Pick: So rare is it to watch a film that not only follows recognizably real people, but makes their story just as compelling, if not more, than the most outlandish fantasy a writer could ever cook up. Lonergan's funny and moving brother-sister tale made the seemingly ordinary into a film that was quite the opposite.
The Winner: ...and another "second choice" manages to pull ahead of the frontrunner (Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count on Me), which likely suffered from having a much lower profile.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Nomination Analysis: The pleasantly surprising nomination for the violent Amores Perros (a.k.a. Love's a Bitch) shows some boldness in the Academy's taste, but in the end they aren't so bold as to recognize a quintessentially quirky outing from arty auteur Wong Kar-Wai: In the Mood for Love, Hong Kong's official entry. Also unfairly overlooked: Korea's lush and entertaining Chunhyang.
The Winner: While it's certainly great to see a foreign language film win this many awards, I don't believe it's quite the breakthrough as it's been made out to be, considering that these awards skew toward the technical end. Had Ang Lee won Best Director as had been predicted, then the total would have counted for that much more.
Nomination Analysis: This is the one time I will give praise to the Miramax Machine: it got a very deserved nod here for Vatel, a stunningly designed film that had nothing else to recommend it. But something is amiss when the year's most audacious creations--those featured in The Cell--fails to earn a nod. I suppose it was the film's controversial nature that blinded voters.
The Winner: (see Foreign Language Film, above)
Nomination Analysis: Most voters probably never even heard of George Washington, let alone saw Tim Orr's gorgeous work in it, so it would've been a real shock to see it get a most-deserved nod. The big shock of inclusion here is that of Malèna; Harvey W. strikes again (though for a worthy cause). The notable omission is that of "Peter Andrews," a.k.a. Steven Soderbergh, for Traffic.
The Winner: (see Foreign Language Film, above)
Nomination Analysis: Again--where is The Cell? Was the been-there, done-that rehash of 102 Dalmatians really more impressive? I think not. Also unfairly neglected: The House of Mirth.
The Winner: Nice period costuming, but seriously--was this work all that much better than the fabulously outrageous yet gorgeous designs in the non-nominated The Cell?
Nomination Analysis: Dede Allen's reputation aside, the inclusion of Wonder Boys here is a huge bafflement. I can only conclude that in nominating that and not nominating Jay Rabinowitz's miraculous Requiem for a Dream work, the film editors' branch of the Academy is completely insane.
The Winner: The evening's first hint that no one film would be dominant.
Nomination Analysis: One would think Nutty Professor II: The Klumps would be a lock, yet it didn't even make the semifinalist list.
The Winner: Regardless of the quality of Baker's work (and, indeed, it was great work), isn't it sad that video boxes for The Grinch will now blare "Academy Award winner"?
Nomination Analysis: Unsurprising omission: Clint Mansell's Requiem for a Dream.
The Winner: (see Foreign Language Film, above)
Nomination Analysis: Even though she clearly deserved a chance in the Actress category, it's nice to see Björk at least get some recognition for her musical contribution to Dancer in the Dark--a nod she'd likely prefer, anyway. It must be noted that Sony Classics didn't actively campaign for the CT, HD song yet got a nod anyway--a clear indication of how well-liked the film is. While I'd love to see either of those two tunes win, this is Dylan's preordained win, much to my crushing dismay.
- "A Fool in Love," Meet the Parents - Randy Newman
- +"I've Seen It All," Dancer in the Dark - Björk, Lars von Trier, & Sjon Sigurdsson
- "A Love Before Time," Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Jorge Calandrelli, Tan Dun, & James Schamus
- "My Funny Friend and Me," The Emperor's New Groove - Sting & David Hartley
- "Things Have Changed," Wonder Boys - Bob Dylan
The Winner: Gil Cates and company accomplished the impossible--making Dylan look even freakier with that unwaveringly tight closeup.
Nomination Analysis: All of these films were appropriately loud, so I suppose they are all worthy contenders.
- +Cast Away - Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis Sands, and William B. Kaplan
- Gladiator - Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, and Ken Weston
- The Patriot - Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell ,and Lee Orloff
- The Perfect Storm - John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David Campbell, and Keith A. Wester
- U-571 - Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Rick Kline, and Ivan Sharrock
The Winner: Loudness (and 11 other nominations) cinched this victory, but wouldn't it have been a nice change of pace to honor the more varied Cast Away work, which not only pumped up the decibels for a plane crash but made basic tropical island noises seem nearly melodic?
SOUND EFFECTS EDITING
Nomination Analysis: Usually three nominees are drawn from a semi-final pool of seven films; my guess is that there was a three-or-greater-way tie for the third slot, hence the peculiar two-film race.
The Winner: Yes, very nice work here, but I'm just more pleased that the Academy didn't pander to their geriatric demographic and bestow an award upon Space Cowboys.
Nomination Analysis: Even though the film as a whole left a lot to be desired, it is nice to see Hollow Man get a nod--not that it's likely to beat Gladiator here.
- Gladiator - John Nelson, Neil Corbould, Tim Burke and Rob Harvey
- +Hollow Man - Scott E. Anderson, Craig Hayes, Scott Stokdyk, and Stan Parks
- The Perfect Storm - Stefen Fangmeier, Habib Zargarpour, John Frazier, and Walt Conti
The Winner: That sound you hear is Roger Ebert still screaming.
- Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport - Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer
- Legacy - Tod S. Lending
- Long Night's Journey into Day - Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffmann
- Scottsboro: An American Tragedy - Barak Goodman and Daniel Anker
- Sound and Fury - Josh Aronson and Roger Weisberg
LIVE ACTION SHORT
- By Courier - Peter Riegert and Ericka Frederick
- One Day Crossing - Joan Stein and Christina Lazaridi
- Quiero Ser (I Want to Be...) - Florian Gallenberger
- Seraglio - Gail Lerner and Colin Campbell
- A Soccer Story (Una Historia de Futebol) - Paulo Machline
- Father and Daughter - Michael Dudok de Wit
- The Periwig-Maker - Steffen Schäffler and Annette Schäffler
- Rejected - Don Hertzfeldt
- Big Mama - Tracy Seretean
- Curtain Call - Chuck Braverman and Steve Kalafer
- Dolphins - Greg MacGillivray and Alec Lorimore
- The Man on Lincoln's Nose - Daniel Raim
- On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom - Eric Simonson and Leelai Demoz
With no runaway winner and the trophies spread fairly equally what had been considered the three top Best Picture contenders, the Academy was clearly trying to spread the wealth this year. Alas, the generosity didn't extend to Miramax, for their aggressive campaigning for Chocolat ultimately proved ineffective in securing an award; in fact, the most-maligned Best Picture nominee was the only one to not come away with a single award.
It being a fairly unpredictable year with a number of awards going to the perceived "second choices," I managed only a 50% success rate in predicting the outcome of the top eight categories, missing Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, and Original Screenplay.
73rd Annual Academy Award Winners/© Michael Dequina